The Gentle Art of Gift-Giving

As the holiday gift-giving season nears, it’s important to remember that not every relationship requires a gift. Sometimes a card or letter in which you write a thoughtful sentiment, is an excellent way to go. Caring enough to pick out the right card and then taking the time and effort to write in it can say “I care!” even better than a gift could.


Being a responsible gift-giver will help you to be an excellent recipient as well. Knowing that it’s the thought that went into the gift that counts—not the price tag—will help you to be genuinely grateful. You cannot be too grateful. But you can fail to express your gratitude, and that’s always a bad thing.

If you don’t know what to give someone, ask this simple question: What really matters to him or her?

Let’s say your grandmother really loves animals. In fact, she volunteers at the shelter two days a week. She is passionate about animal rights. Donating any amount of money (or a few hours of your time) in her name to the animal shelter would probably make her break down and cry. She would be touched that you cared enough to figure out what really matters to her.

GIVE SOMETHING YOU MADE. Whether it’s something from your kitchen, craft room, woodworking shop, or computer, there’s nothing like a homemade gift. A tree ornament, plate of cookies, box of fudge, note cards—these are just some of the homemade gifts that have universal appeal.


7 Ways to Cut Your Smartphone Data Usage

Unlimited data plans for smartphones are nearly a thing of the past. Even if you’ve managed to hang on to your unlimited data plan, it’s likely not truly unlimited. Your carrier probably throttles your data speeds if you exceed a certain amount of downloaded data in a given billing period.


Data usage per smartphone is growing like crazy which is prompting the typical smartphone user to buy bigger data allowances as they sign up for shared data plans and add other devices, especially tablets. Ka-ching!

There are things that you, as a socially connected, tech-savvy person with a smartphone and a limited data plan can do to stay below your limited data plan cap. Follow these tips to cut back on your data habit, track and monitor your usage, and stretech your data plan—so you never have to pay overage charges again.


How to Cut the Cost of Owning a Pet

No one was more surprised than I when my first granddog, Sir Boddington, nuzzled a place in my heart. I knew I was smitten the day I loaded up on toys, milk bones and other doggie delights. I blame it on “Boddie” that I so willingly became a member of the U.S. population that spent $58 billion in 2014 on food, supplies, services such as grooming and boarding, and medical care for their 358 million pets.


So how can you afford to care for your furry friend—in sickness and in health? Make prevention maintenance your top priority as a pet owner and you’ll save later on.

RESTRAIN. A fence or some other reasonable restraint is the best way to avoid big vet bills, says David T. Roen, D.V.M., board-certified veterinarian and owner of the Clarkston Veterinary Clinic in Clarkston, Washington. “I see more dogs in my office because of injuries sustained while unrestrained than for any other reason. Dogs should always be leashed, fenced or supervised.”

CHOOSE THE RIGHT FOOD. Dr. Roen advises pet owners to skip all the fancy premium foods sold by vets. Use name-brand pet food from the supermarket labeled “complete and balanced.” Or look for the seal of approval of AAFCO (the Association of American Feed Control Officials). Stick with the same brand. Switching abruptly can cause health issues for some animals. And less is better, as slightly underweight pets have fewer health problems. 


Cheap, Cheesy, Fun Halloween Costumes

How much do we enjoy the holiday that comes on the last day of October? Americans spend more on celebrating Halloween than Thanksgiving or Easter, second only to Christmas. How scary is that?


Well, not to worry. There are dozens of ways to cut the cost without cutting out the fun―especially on costumes.

I’ve gathered a few that are fun, odd, imaginative and, best of all, cheap. In fact, most of these ideas require stuff you probably have already. And if these aren’t right for you, I have a feeling they’ll trigger your imagination to come up with ideas of your own.

BAG OF CANDY. Get a big, clear garbage bag. Cut two holes in bottom for your legs, and two armholes near opening of bag. Fill it with multicolored balloons for jellybeans. For M&Ms, take multi-color round balloons and choose ones that match M&M colors. Blow them up to about 80 percent (less likely to break), and write “M” on each of them with black marker. Fill the bag only half full so you can move easily and with any luck, sit down.


How to Buy the Best Washer and Dryer

If experience is the best teacher, surely I have achieved expert status in the field of buying clothes washers and dryers.


Twenty-five years ago we bought our first brand new washer and dryer—a traditional Whirlpool matching—from a warehouse club. The price came to $1,100 with tax, out the door. Nothing fancy, just a couple of workhorses. After 16 years of constant use, the washer finally failed beyond repair.

After a great deal of research and contemplation, we settled on the LG Waveform Ultra Capacity High Efficiency Top Loading washer and companion steam dryer which I wrote about in more detail HERE for why we made that decision and how I got that brand new matching set for half that price!

I loved my LG appliances until we moved into a tiny apartment with space for only the washer or dryer or both if we could stack them. Can’t stack a top-loading washer, so we gifted the LG set to our son and bought a stackable GE front loading washer and dryer. Fabulous decision. Front-loading washers have been so greatly improved over the years. I had no problems at all with nasty smells or moldy build-up. And I really enjoyed the steam feature on the dryer. 


An Avalanche of Reader Love

I’ve told you about my email inbox but really you should see it—not that I am complaining. On the contrary, the more mail I get, the move love I feel from my wonderful readers.


Some of you send the most amazing stories and accounts of your progress in getting out of debt. Other messages are a quick sentence of encouragement. But mostly, you can’t seem to locate past information and simply need a repeat or reminder of a tip, trick, product or do-it-yourself instruction you’ve read in a previous column.

I’m no statistician, but I’m told that for every person who actually writes to ask a question—given the size of readership that Everyday Cheapskate enjoys—1,000 others want to know as well, but just don’t get around to writing. So, consider the following my attempt to compile lots of messages with the same or similar question and at the same time kill thousands of birds with just a few stones.

Q: Can you tell me which carpet steam cleaner you recommend, the one you said was the best thing you ever bought?

A: Oh, you’re talking about my beloved Hoover Steam Vac. I still have it, still love it and wouldn’t want to live without it. Make sure you re-read the original post so you’ll know how Hoover works best for me (hint: no shampoo.)


Simple Tips to Keep Things Beautiful and Working Well Around the House

FABULOUS FIXTURES. So you splurged on some really beautiful—dare I say expensive—sink fixtures for your kitchen or bathroom. Here’s a fabulous way to keep them looking beautiful for many years to come.


Once a month or so, wipe the faucets down with a rag that you have sprayed with a wax-based furniture polish. This will keep mineral deposits from building up and staining or pitting the surface of even the most exquisite fixtures.

DUCT TAPE REPAIR. Got a shower curtain with a ripped ring hole that makes it sag? Don’t throw it out quite yet. Instead, get out the duct tape and cover the entire hole on both sides. Using a hole punch or craft knife, re-create the ring hole. Now it’s stronger than new. But maybe not so attractive. Not to worry. These days duct tape comes in loads of colors and even patterns. You may even want to reinforce the entire top strip of the vinyl curtain with a bright color or design and redo all of the holes while you’re at it, not just the torn one.


How to Give Wisely to a Charity

It’s that time of year again—everyone wants your money. Brace yourself for more dinnertime phone calls and mailbox solicitations.


Those kinds of things used to bother me. So did the collection plate at church. I felt guilty because no matter how much money we made, there was never enough to give away. And with all the debt my family had, how could I be expected to help others?

Then our financial house of cards came crashing down. It was ugly. Losing our business and our income, and getting notice that our home was scheduled to go into foreclosure, were huge wakeup calls. At the darkest moment, I made a promise: If I ever see another dollar, I’m going to give some of it away. First. Then I will do the best I can with the rest. And I meant it.

I did see another dollar—in fact, many dollars—in the following years. “Give and save first, then spend” became my money management philosophy.

From time to time a financial planner will argue that it was foolish to contribute to charity, my church and others while paying exorbitant interest rates on credit card debt. I disagree. Yes, we probably could have paid down the debt faster—it took 13 years to pay off more than $100,000 in unsecured debt. But I know myself. Giving gave me a grateful heart and the stamina I needed to keep going until my last debt was paid.